Israeli Bill to Give Police Officers in East Jerusalem Immunity From Prosecution

Under current law, Israeli soldiers and Border Police troops are protected from damage suits filed by Palestinians, as long as they're acting 'on the grounds of combat activity' in the West Bank

Israeli Border Police forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, 2016
AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is advancing an amendment that would give Border Police forces operating in East Jerusalem immunity from lawsuits for damages they cause in the course of acting against terror or rioting.

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Under the current law, Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Border Police troops are protected from damage suits filed by Palestinians, as long as they were acting “on the grounds of combat activity” which is defined as “any activity to fight terror, hostile actions or an uprising.” But this protection is valid only in the West Bank.

The law also grants protection to IDF soldiers acting in areas within the Green Line, but not to police who can be sued by East Jerusalem Arabs for damages caused during anti-terror actions. Erdan’s amendment would provide legal protection to all activities by the police and Border Police within the Green Line, with the main objective being to make them immune from lawsuits filed by East Jerusalem residents.

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Israeli Public Security minister Gilad Erdan during a visit on the scene of an attack in Jerusalem, 2015
Olivier Fitoussi

Over the past year the police have fielded 10 lawsuits by East Jerusalem residents who say they have suffered harm at the hands of Border Police forces during various operations. Unlike the IDF, the police cannot claim that because the plaintiffs were harmed by “combat activity,” they have immunity. Moreover, the defense establishment is expecting a wave of lawsuits resulting from the confrontations at the Temple Mount over the past two years, many of which are expected to be filed just before the statute of limitations on the incidents expires.

The police say that if they cause damage as a result of trying to neutralize a terrorist in Tel Aviv, they are not protected from a civil lawsuit.

Six months ago, the state paid compensation to a resident of Shoafat in East Jerusalem who sued the state in 2014, claiming that three years earlier he had been injured by Border Police gunfire during a demonstration near his home. He said he was returning home from work in Tel Aviv and was not involved in the demonstration. In another case, the state settled a lawsuit with a resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya who was wounded by Border Police gunfire during clashes in the area. He maintained he was a passerby who had not taken part in the rioting.

The law also allows claims to be made for damage to property during clashes for up to two years after the damage occurred; in exceptional cases the limit can be extended another year. If the law is amended the police will be immune from similar tort claims.

The Public Security Ministry and the police argue that any innocent citizen injured as a result of activity by the Border Police will be entitled to compensation as a victim of a hostile action.

Erdan’s proposal has the support of the State Prosecutor’s Office and is expected to be advanced in coordination with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. “Policemen and Border Policemen are at the front lines of the struggle against terror and I’m proud to promote fair legislation that will equalize their status to that of IDF soldiers when they fight terror and protect the citizens of the country from harm,” Erdan said. “There is no logic in having belligerent actions by police officers during a terror incident be subject to damage claims by those who were involved in the terror incident.”